Animated GIF that shows: 1. The Actual Book Cover("The Masters: Conversations with Dylan, Lennon, Jagger, Townshend, Garcia, Bono, Springsteen" 2. A transition to a Mocked Up cover that reads instead "The (WHITE MALE) Masters 3. "A More Honest Cover"

How Leaders Still Fail the Racism Sexism Test

How Jann Wenner, The Hachette Book Group, and Little, Brown and Company Dropped the Ball on Diversity

What Happened

Jann S. Wenner, founder of Rolling Stone Magazine wrote a book of interviews from his 50 years leading the magazine. The book, entitled, “The Masters” exclusively focuses on white, male rockstars. The title and promotional content, combined with the lack of diversity, reflect an acceptance of racism and sexism. Both Wenner, and his publisher, Hachette Book Group cared too little for diversity to more accurately reflect its contents. Worse, in an interview with the New York Times, Wenner made statements that female and nonwhite artists were less articulate or intellectual.

Jann Wenner's Racist & Sexist Statements

To promote and sell the book, the marketing text on Amazon claims, “During fifty years of publishing the ‘Bible of Rock and Roll,’ Jann Wenner conducted a series of interviews that are now regarded among the most important historical documents of rock.”

  • 50 Years?
  • Most important historical documents of rock?
  • Yet, all white dudes?

He knew the book completely lacked diversity.  In the introduction, he acknowledges, “performers of color and women performers are just not in (his) zeitgeist” according to the NY Times interview. When pressed on his poor excuse, Wenner revealed a complete lack of empathy, at best, racism and sexism at worst:

When I was referring to the zeitgeist, I was referring to Black performers, not to the female performers…. ….The people had to meet a couple criteria, but it was just kind of my personal interest and love of them. Insofar as the women, just none of them were as articulate enough on this intellectual level.

The interviewer even gave Wenner a chance to walk back his implication women and black artists were not articulate or intellectual enough. Which Wenner did, sort of, for women. He then doubled down on this perspective for Black artists:

Of Black artists — you know, Stevie Wonder, genius, right? I suppose when you use a word as broad as “masters,” the fault is using that word. Maybe Marvin Gaye, or Curtis Mayfield? I mean, they just didn’t articulate at that level.

The Role of Hachette Book Group

The Masters is published by Little, Brown and Company an imprint of Hachette Book Group. Hachette currently promotes Hispanic Heritage Month on their website but chose to publish The Masters believing no nonwhite artists deserved inclusion among, “the extraordinary musicians who dominated rock and roll”. Little, Brown and Company boasts among their earliest publications Little Women by Louisa May Alcott and Emily Dickinson‘s poetry. Yet, they published a book that suggests no women deserved to be included among, “artists who changed history.”

What Should Happen Next

The backlash from the book and Wenner’s interview has begun. Wenner was removed from the Board of Directors in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation for his comments. As a result, Wenner released a statement through the publisher:

In my interview with The New York Times I made comments that diminished the contributions, genius and impact of Black and women artists and I apologize wholeheartedly for those remarks.”

He went on to describe the book in a very different way than it was promoted. This is a good start – not great, but good. More work is needed. Here’s what Hachette and Wenner should do next:

  • Publisher Apology: The publisher likely played a large role in the promotion and marketing messages. As the corporation behind this book and its promotion, they had a role in it’s writing, editing, and marketing. They should make a very public apology and commit to actions inside their organization to ensure they do not repeat this leadership failure.
  • Delay Release: This is a significant expense. However, to mitigate long-term fallout, the book cover, text, title, back cover, and promotional content should be revised to more accurately reflect the contents. Even better, maybe Wenner actually interviewed one or two nonwhite guys who do deserve inclusion?
  • Update Processes: The publisher should review their DEI&A editorial processes. It’s clear their current process is inadequate at best.

The NY Times interview of author Jann Wenner ended with the interviewer asking, what ever happened to the promise of rock-and-roll? It’s clear that promise moved the needle in a lot of positive directions. Unfortunately, it failed to move the needle on empathy, diversity, and gender equality for the founder of what Hachette Book Group called, “The Rock and Roll Bible”. Here’s hoping the next 50 years of rock-and-roll can reach more leaders.

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